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“My family is normal.”

February 7, 2012

The news that Prop 8 went down in California is certainly welcome, although tempered by the split decision and the concurrent rise of wingnuts in local beauty contests. Some of us are old enough to recall when the GOP stood for financial probity and the common good. Sigh.

Same-sex couples have been a subject of interest in my fiction ever since the first book fragment I sent a publisher back in 1977. As I found myself the sole young woman in an all-male chemistry lab, I figured that if two different genders could share a lab, then two the same could share a marriage.

I grew up with the impression from biology that only humans had same-sex relationships; that other animals were strictly procreative. All the textbooks and literature said so, if they said anything at all. That’s why Sharers  considered all-female society a sign of advanced civilization, in contrast to “animal behavior.” Later, it was fascinating to watch zoologists “discover” that animals too have their queer side, and Tango makes three. Considering how common these behaviors are, I wonder why they weren’t noticed until the nineties. Must be all the new high-tech cameras. :-,

Now scientists have a new hypothesis: That capacity for same-sex attraction is somehow “linked” to family stability and reproductive success. One study found that children of two lesbian mothers were better behaved. And pairs of fathers often adopt children no one else wants.

At the end of the day, whatever the family, it’s important to remember what the children want most, which is to say, “My family is normal.”  How can science fiction help us get there?

6 Comments
  1. February 8, 2012 7:00 am

    One of the effects of SF has traditionally been to make outlandish things seem normal to a segment of the population, and then to increasingly larger circles, as the ideas are discussed and re-used (like the Waldo). Surely the more we read about same-sex couples, the more normal they will seem. The trick now seems to be to keep it low-key, so the books don’t get challenged by religious groups.

  2. February 8, 2012 2:36 pm

    Actually, having read Bagemihl’s Biological exuberance, I’d say that scientists (not just biologists) were actively suppressing observations of alternate sexual behavior, including things like masturbation, both in humans and non-humans. It’s partly about funding and job prospects, especially in the US. I ‘m pretty sure that, for a long time, observations of alternate sexuality among animals were treated much like the unexplainable (sometimes supernatural?) things that field biologists occasionally see–they aren’t talked about, except in private, around the lonely campfire or whenever.

    Inside the university, it might also be about getting students hooked on biology. Too much information can gross them out, rather than getting them interested. For example, my description of fern gametophytic sex (“it’s like going to a party and choosing which sex you will be, depending on who’s already at the party”) didn’t play well with a bunch of undergrads, even though they mostly considered themselves liberal. It happens to be the way some ferns determine whether to produce sperm or eggs (they sense hormones secreted by nearby fern gametophytes and react appropriately) but the human metaphor was too squicky, even for liberal minded kids at a major university in a liberal town.

    We self-censor a lot.

    As for literature, I think SFF is doing just fine with introducing alternative lifestyles and making them appear to be not a big deal. We should keep doing it, too.

    • February 8, 2012 4:19 pm

      I agree about the “not a big deal”–that’s what I aim for today.

      But that surprises me, that your undergrads had trouble with sex-changing ferns. Kenyon students get that right away. They also “get it” that bacterial transformation is “necrophily.” We have a large arts and drama group, so maybe that helps.

      Botany has always made me shake my head. Historically, some women’s colleges taught only botany, so they didn’t have to teach females the human anatomy. But flower parts were ok. Go figure.

    • February 8, 2012 7:54 pm

      Oh, they got it. It’s just that they didn’t like the human imagery. I used the idea of “gameto-humans” and “sporo-humans” (which would you rather be?) as a way to teach alternation of generations. People who got it had this interesting look on their faces, while people who didn’t get it looked blank. It was a better informal test than asking them whether they understood life-cycles.

      As for the general hypocrisy around botany and zoology…sigh. I agree. The one thing that makes me cheerful is that I’ve seen more zoologists get into trouble in botany classes, than botanists get in trouble with zoology classes. That (sarcasm)*obviously*(/sarcasm) explains why zoologists consider themselves to be better than botanists. Then again, mycologists are generally much better at botany (and zoology) than either zoologists or botanists are at mycology. That says something about the status of mycology in the US.

      • February 8, 2012 10:51 pm

        Well I lost my first job offer because I didn’t know any mycology. That wouldn’t happen today (jobs are now too specialized) but I make sure my students know about the ones with twenty-thousand different mating types. That would make Eharmony interesting.

        • February 9, 2012 1:01 am

          Kudos to you, Joan! I hope they nail the difference between anamorph and teleomorph too.

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